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Sacramento City Council approves ban on single-use plastic bags

Consumes River College students, from left, Daniel Loudon, Cesar Aguirre and Jamie Gonzalez hold up signs in support of banning plastic bags  Tuesday, at the Sacramento City Council meeting.
Consumes River College students, from left, Daniel Loudon, Cesar Aguirre and Jamie Gonzalez hold up signs in support of banning plastic bags Tuesday, at the Sacramento City Council meeting. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Sacramento shoppers will ditch plastic bags starting next year, joining more than a third of Californians who live in places where such bags have been banned.

In a unanimous vote, the Sacramento City Council approved a ban on single-use plastic bags that will effectively eliminate plastic bags from the checkout counters of all grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores within city limits.

In lieu of plastic, customers will be given the option of recycled paper bags or reusable bags that stores will be required to sell for at least 10 cents apiece.

At Tuesday night's council meeting, audience members held signs displaying their support for the ban.

“Ban the bag,” some of the signs said.

“Protect our rivers,” said others.

Only two speakers Tuesday voiced opposition to the bag ban.

“This is about our city resuming our spot as a leader in the state of California and doing the right thing,” Mayor Kevin Johnson said before voting for the measure.

His vote follows months of statements indicating Johnson would push for an ordinance to limit plastic bags in Sacramento if opponents of a similar state law signed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown prevailed in getting that ban suspended or overturned. A referendum challenging the statewide plastic bag ban qualified for the November 2016 ballot and effectively put the measure on hold until after the vote.

But no matter what happens statewide, Sacramento’s new ban will take effect Jan. 1.

The ordinance is aimed at grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores, where single-use plastic bags will no longer be available at checkout. The stores will be allowed to provide promotions for free reusable bags, though the law limits such promotions to no more than 60 days per year.

Brian O’Hara of Californians Against Waste, an organization that supports a statewide ban, said this was to reinforce the notion that reusable bags should be reused and not turned into de facto single-use sacks.

Stores also will be required to provide free reusable bags or recycled paper bags to consumers in the California Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

According to a report compiled by city staff, nearly 14 million plastic bags are given out in Sacramento every month. California retailers distribute about 19 billion bags per year, or 522 per person, according to Californians Against Waste. But less than 5 percent of those bags are recycled.

Those that are recycled can still prove problematic, the city staff reported. Although bags are accepted as part of the city’s curbside recycling program, they often clog the sorting machinery, forcing staff workers to shut down the process about six times per day to remove tangled bags, the report states.

Several council members who voted to support the plastic bag ordinance did so out of concern for the environmental and financial toll taken on the city, they said.

The two people who spoke in opposition to the ban Tuesday focused largely on the cost of recycled paper or reusable bags.

Lee Califf, executive director of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, which represents the plastic bag industry, has said “the proposed ordinance in Sacramento wouldn’t have a meaningful impact on the environment” and said it would “threaten California jobs and take money out of the wallets of hardworking Sacramento citizens – with every cent of the paper bag fees going straight to big grocers, rather than to serve a public purpose.”

More than one-third of Californians live in places where single-use plastic bags are outlawed. As of Tuesday, 138 jurisdictions have banned the bags, according to Californians Against Waste, including several in the Sacramento area such as Davis, Nevada City, Chico, Truckee and South Lake Tahoe.

If the state’s ban is reinstated after the November 2016 vote, it would supersede the Sacramento ordinance. But should the state measure fail, Sacramento’s ban would remain intact.

There are slight differences between the ban approved by the city and the state’s ban: The state ban allows stores to also offer a compostable bag option in lieu of plastic bags; and the city ordinance requires stores to keep three years of sales records for paper and reusable bags, while the state law has no such provision.

Call The Bee’s Marissa Lang, (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter at @Marissa_Jae.

Plastic bags at a glance

How many are there: California retailers distribute about 19 billion bags a year, about 522 per person. Less than 5 percent are recycled.

Where they are banned: More than 130 jurisdictions statewide have adopted ordinances banning plastic bags.

Nearby cities that ban bags: Davis, Nevada City, Chico, Truckee and South Lake Tahoe

Sources: City of Sacramento, Californians Against Waste

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